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Religious education and collective worship in England and Wales

The 1944 Education Act made religious instruction mandatory in schools in England and Wales, although parents may withdraw their children from these classes. The initial emphasis on ‘religious instruction’ has however given way to ‘religious education’, in which children are taught about religion rather than trained to be religious. The syllabi are organised at local level, but the 1988 Education Reform Act required that any new Religious Education syllabus must ‘reflect the fact that the religious traditions in Great Britain are in the main Christian whilst taking account of the teaching and practices of the other principal religions represented in Great Britain.’ Exactly what this provision means is open to debate.

Voluntary aided schools do not have to offer instruction on other religious traditions, but many of these schools did so anyway and in February 2006 the churches agreed that all schools should teach their pupils about other religions.
Standing Advisory Councils for Religious Education (SACREs) have a statutory responsibility to monitor state religious education in their area. Local religious bodies are represented on these councils, as are teachers and local authorities.

In addition to religious education, state supported schools in England and Wales are required to organise daily acts of ‘collective worship’, the majority of which should be ‘wholly or mainly of a broadly Christian character’. Parents may withdraw their children if they wish. Local authorities may approve alternative arrangements, for example where most pupils are non-Christian. In practice the need to respect different faiths and the preferences of the non-religious – not least among the teaching staff – has meant that many schools make little effort to give these ‘acts’ a distinctively Christian or even religious character.

D 11 September 2012    ADavid Voas

CNRS Unistra Dres Gsrl

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